Reports | November 05, 2010 16:10

Magnus Carlsen steps out of World Championship cycle

Magnus Carlsen steps out of World Championship cycle

By declining to play in the 2011 Candidates matches, Magnus Carlsen has decided to step out of the current World Championship cycle. In a letter to FIDE Carlsen expresses his dissatisfaction with the current cycle, like "reigning champion privileges, the long (five year) span of the cycle and changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov." Poll added.

The following letter, signed by Magnus Carlsen, dated November 4th, was sent to FIDE. We received a copy from Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein.

To: FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov & FIDE World Championship Committee. Reference is made to the ongoing World Championship cycle. The purpose of this letter is to inform you of my decision not to take part in the planned Candidate Matches between March and May 2011. After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008 – 2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and, to perform at my best. Reigning champion privileges, the long (5 yr) span of the cycle, changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov, puzzling ranking criteria as well as the shallow ceaseless match-after-match concept are all less than satisfactory in my opinion. By providing you with 4 months notice before the earliest start of the Candidates as well as in time before you have presented player contracts or detailed regulations, I rest assured that you will be able to find an appropriate replacement. Although the purpose of this letter is not to influence you to make further changes to the ongoing cycle, I would like to take the opportunity to present a few ideas about future cycles in line with our input to FIDE during the December 27th 2008 phone-conference between FIDE leaders and a group of top-level players. In my opinion privileges should in general be abolished and a future World Championship model should be based on a fair fight between the best players in the World, on equal terms. This should apply also to the winner of the previous World Championship, and especially so when there are several players at approximately the same level in the world elite. (Why should one player have one out of two tickets to the final to the detriment of all remaining players in the world? Imagine that the winner of the 2010 Football World Cup would be directly qualified to the 2014 World Cup final while all the rest of the teams would have to fight for the other spot.) One possibility for future cycles would be to stage an 8-10 player World Championship tournament similar to the 2005 and 2007 events. The proposal to abolish the privileges of the World Champion in the future is not in any way meant as criticism of, or an attack on, the reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who is a worthy World Champion, a role model chess colleague and a highly esteemed opponent. Rest assured that I am still motivated to play competitive chess. My current plan is to continue to participate in well-organised top-level tournaments and to try to maintain the no 1 spot on the rating list that I have successfully defended for most of 2010. Best regards, IGM Magnus Carlsen

The next step of the current World Championship cycle is formed by the Candidates matches, which are scheduled in Kazan in the Russian republic of Tatarstan in the spring of 2011. The winner of these matches will meet Viswanathan Anand in a World Championship match, which will probably be held in London in 2012. FIDE has confirmed to have received Carlsen's letter. "Currently we have no comments on this matter. We must treat it in the World Championship committee first," said FIDE Executive Director David Jarrett of FIDE to VG Nett.

Now with such breaking news and a discussion that's going at top speed, we added something we wanted to do for a while already: threaded comments. You can now reply directly to certain comments instead of using the '@' symbol. Let's see how this works.


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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


carl's picture

it's a shame for chess -- only chucky can save the cycle now.

Castro's picture

Moro! The appearence of a killer, swindler, unbeatable Morozevich! :-)

Jokes aside, how could Ivanchuck save a (presumely despaired) chess world? Winning always from now on? Quiting, as he threatened before? Will he be replacing Carlsen in the present cycle, to begin with??

Gigi's picture

Come on! Chuky for World Champion!!!

Pagliacci's picture

People who really want change negotiate. They raise an objection that could be answered, and they make deals. They don't raise global, system-wide objections. There's no starting point for those, which assures nothing is done. It's passive aggression. I like my aggressors active. Nobody since Kasparov won a WC through Candidates matches? Heaven forbid we have another champ capable of running that gauntlet. Man or mouse? Put a piece of cheese on the floor and you'll find out.

frogbert's picture


have you read Carlsen's communication with FIDE prior to this open letter? No?

I'm puzzled that so many are unable to imagine something existing only because they haven't seen it with their own eyes. It's like playing with a small baby: if you hide something from them, the thing ceases to exist...

Jost's picture

I fear he may have the same problem as Fischer: He can't cope with all the expectations, can't stand losing and is afraid of playing imperfect chess. So like Fischer he tries to find excuses.
Another possibility is that he wants to stay in control of his own life, not beiing forced into very stressful WC situations... Why does he need to break Kasparovs record as youngest WC? In this way it is a wise decision. He doesn't want to be in this WC 'vortex' , not even 20! His time will come.............I hope this second possibility is the case!
Go Magnus!

JackAndJill's picture

If Magnus had been a truly remarkable player, he would have played and won the World Championship title and then made the claims of taking privileges away from a World Champion! In that case, we would have all called him a great champion. Now, there are doubts about his motivation behind this decision. We'll probably never know the true reason for this decision but he is definitely not a great player and is making moves outside the board (not unlike Kasparov and Kramnik).

Frank G.'s picture

Very good point.

sundararajan ganesan's picture

while carlsen's respect for vishy is genuine, it is known to everyone (including to carlsen!) that magnus' has more chances in tournaments rather than in one-to one matches (which is more a psychological warfare!)

sundararajan ganesan's picture

hence is his opting out of the WCC!

frogbert's picture

Because Carlsen is known to have weak nerves, right? Duh ...

ebutaljib's picture

And you want this???

Thats how it was between 1998 and 2004 and EVERYBODY hated it! Hell, most people don't even recognize those winners as World Champions.

THAT is your proposal???

jazzkoo's picture

Seems to me that there is a big difference in match play and tournament play. If the world championship is decided in tournament play that is a very different thing. I prefer match play myself. The tradition seems important to me.
Unlike earlier in chess history there are not lots of super tourneys every year. So the idea is to label one of these a world championship? IMHO part of the deal (matchplay championship) is that it isn't so easy to get to be the challenger. That's part of what makes to whole thing so special. Can you imagine having a new champ every year who won one of the years many super tourneys?

jazzkoo's picture

whoops... typo... "not lots of super tourneys" was suppose to be "NOW lots of super tourneys"

leo. xiu's picture

My worst fears came true. Carlsen is being chicken at the thought of fighting with kramnik and Aronian .

checkersisfortramps's picture

Unreal. I have to wonder if Kasparov has had an effect on him, or if this is entirely his own idea. It would be nice if he were able to pull off some of what his goals are as listed in the letter, but realistically I think the bureaucratic beast might be impervious to these kinds of antics. I mean, Kaspy left with the title and fide still didn't care...

Brian Wall's picture

The Russians have had my title for 10 years - Bobby Fischer

Magnus is already World Champion in everyone's eyes.
The second highest rating ever speaks for itself.

I've always admired Anand, nothing against him at all.

Let's face it, Kirsan tries a new World Championship system every year.
I think one tournament of the best players to decide a challenger is fair.
Play each other twice and whoever wins plays Anand.
The Interzonals with all players from the same country playing each other in the first few rounds seems fair to me. The problem is the world is faster paced now. They don't seem to want to go through that these days. How the old players did this with very little prize money is a miracle.

I think Anand gave up his rights in the Topalov match, he didn't win the match if it was drawn, he had to play Rapid then blitz games next.

Bobby Fischer also wanted the World Champion not to have draw odds ... until he became World Champion.

Castro's picture

"Magnus is already World Champion in everyone’s eyes"

Things people say!!!

"The second highest rating ever speaks for itself"

Yes, it tells volumes about Elo inflaction, and how Fischer's Elo is the real record, specialy regarding his superiority over contemporanes.

"Bobby Fischer also wanted the World Champion not to have draw odds"

I'd like to see where exactely this is documented.

These points made, sure I admit Fischer was no angel... :-)

giorgioarvas's picture

The fact that the World Champion has privilege is absolutely right. Every World Champion was once a challenger himself, and the World Champion before him had the same advantage. Didn't Kramnik had the same advantage against Anand? Didn't Kasparov against Kramnik? Karpov against Kasparov? That's why the World Title is so prestigeus and that's why - among other reasons - that we admire the World Champion. Because he had to surpass all these difficulties and prove to the World that he is really the best. Magnus must understand that chess is cannot be compared to football. If he doesn't understand that chess is a unique game with it's own rules, i am really disappointed. In any case, even if he retains the no. 1 spot in the ratings for 50 years, he won't be admired as true World Champions are. He must understand this. A real fighter, fights.

frogbert's picture

"Didn’t Kramnik had the same advantage against Anand?"

If you considered Anand the challenger and Kramnik the defender, then it also follows that Anand qualified to play Kramnik by winning a tournament, Mexico 2007.

"Didn’t Kasparov against Kramnik?"

Eh... Kramnik won which qualification cycle again to play Kasparov? Which candidate matches did Kramnik successfully go through?

Anand won a tournament, Kramnik was handpicked, Kasparov and Karpov played a zillion world championship games against each other and none ever demonstrated any superiority over the other in match play (+2 for Kasparov in 144 games or a 51% score doesn't make a very good statistical claim for Kasparov being better than Karpov HEAD to HEAD, in comparison Kramnik's +2 over Kasparov in 15 games is HUGE ...), Kasparov went through a full qualification cycle (with decent match lengths), while Karpov became champion without dethroning a World Champ. [Fischer "chickened out" to use the logic and teminology applied here by several regarding Carlsen's choice.]

Eivind Salen's picture

Excellent comment, giorgioarvas. There are millions of chess fans who just don't want to recognize a world champion who has just won a tourney. To be the real champion and join the chess hall of fame, you have to overcome all the difficulties and beat the excisting champion. Everyone of the 15 to date has done that. And Carlsen has got nothing worse than the others, here.

Frank G.'s picture

I've had further time to reflect since my comment above (Nov. 5, 23:20), so I'll add to what I said. I believe that Carlsen is being selfish and inconsiderate of his fans, and of the game of chess. I can not be a fan of a player who so arbitrarily withdraws from competing for the championship, because "it takes too much effort" and "I think [withdrawing] is best for me". Now, we will have to watch him compete with the true contenders in tournaments and in ratings, not knowing whether he will ever have the fortitude to challenge for (or potentially to defend) the championship. I think that he should be pulled from the FIDE rankings, if not barred from professional competition altogether.

Jan's picture

Frank, I completely agree. Such arrogance from a teenager is unbearable.

meshrath's picture

I agree that Carlsen wants it easy. He doesnt want to work hard for months to prepare for matches like the previous champions did. And he is blaming it on the championship cycle. He will find it difficult to defeat experienced players like Anand, Kramnik, maybe even Topalov, in matches. But that is no reason to leave the cycle. I am sure if he works hard enough, nothing is beyond him. It would have been great to see him fight for the World champions title. Sad for us fans and sad for chess.

gg's picture

Just barred from all competitions? What about having him whipped im in public? :)

frogbert's picture

"I think that he should be pulled from the FIDE rankings, if not barred from professional competition altogether."

Exactly like Kramnik and Topalov and Moro and Shirov were, when they refused to participate in the WC qualifying events called FIDE Grand Prix, which at the time was the path to an eventual WC match.

Fact is, FIDE didn't only refrain from any kind of "punishment" towards these players, they instead obliged and changed the ongoing cycle and reinserted Kramnik (effectively) and Topalov. The "punishment" that would've been appropriate, would've been that FIDE went through with the planned cycle 2008-2011, according to regulations, contracts and so on.

But then (as now) the unknowledgable fans of some players went moaning about "Kramnik and Topalov being left out of the cycle"... Yes, as per their own request, by not wanting to participate.

Carlsen has "punished" himself by not participating and not being able to become Champ in 2012. Asking for "punishment" other than that is just silly.

Frank G.'s picture

It is not a question of "punishment". It is a question of Carlsen undermining the integrity of the world championship by being unwilling to compete for the title, despite potentially outranking FIDE's top contendors and/or the champion himself.

I do not agree with the analogy you have made, because the FIDE Grand Pix as originally constituted was clearly a very irregular and burdensome process for the top contenders. It was clearly not right to demand that Kramnik and Topalov, especially, go through such a procedure. Morozevich explained the irregularities in this interview:

Also, as Moro pointed out, there was an alternative means of quailifying (the World Cup).

These players were clearly willing to compete for the title, under reasonable conditions.

Carlsen, on the other hand, was (at the time of withdrawal) placed in reasonably normal candidates matches, with the matches approaching soon. The one aspect of these matches that could be considered highly irregular, the brevity of the early rounds, was not emphasized by Carlsen in his statement. On the contrary, he advocated scrapping even the championship match tradition in favor of a single tournament format. These are arbitrary objections and indicate a basic unwillingness to compete for the title, at this time.

val's picture

Probably usual scheming by our inveterate politico Kas.

Joeri's picture

I agree with other posters that this poll is not good.

Please remove it because the questions are really silly.

Jan's picture

@Joeri, Agree.

Umesh's picture


What do you mean? The whole idea is to rig the poll in Carlsen's favour. That is why the questions have been decided this way. Otherwise there would have been simple meaningful options like "Carlsen's decision is complletely wrong" etc.

mdamien's picture

Let's add a poll as to whether it is a good or bad poll:

* Good because all polls are good.

* Good because Kramnik would easily beat Carlsen in a match.

* Who knows? I'm just here for the videos.

* Bad; it doesn't even mention Kramnik.

* Bad; a poll with limited answers may have skewed results.

Noah's picture

Very sad news.

jack's picture

this is going all wrong...just c how successful was match between topalov and anand...a worthy w.chmpnshp match...chess cant be compared with soccer man..carlsen got it all wrong from his ADVISOR....

Holland Chess's picture

Democratically established rules and regulations that have the support of the top IGMs who could obtain the WC title, that is what needs to be investigated.
If those top IGMs feel uncomfortable the way the WC cycle is organised nowadays, the FIDE should seriously look into it together with those top-players to seek solutions that have the support of the broad majority of those players.
I agree that chess officials from the FIDE members are of less importance (at this point).
I am stil in favour of a FIDE organised seminar, together with let's say the top 50 IGMs, and the present WC as well as the former WCs and vice WCs.
Openness, transparency and democracy from all (top IGMs, FIDE, etc) will help to further improve the WC cycle, I am convinced of that.
FIDE, a great window of opportunity to seek further improvement of the WC cycle.

Sadik's picture

Sad as it is. This proves that only Anand has been and will be a role model champion for the near future.don't know y carlsen going this route. Fans will definitely desert him. And he will be really sorted out if course in near future. To ask to take the privileges of a legitimate champion us in bad taste. He won't be forgiven unless he come back to the cycle.

Burnett's picture

It will not take long before some sponsor seizes the opportunity and oganises after "Carlsen against the world" in New York a new match on a fancy spot. One exiting possibility; Carlsen-Anand announced as "the Nr 1 rated against FIDE title holder". Or Ivanchuk-Carlsen, Nakamura-Carlsen etc. etc plenty of lucrative opportunities that wil interest general public a lot more than paddling throug the outdated, boring and mucky five year cycle. Fresh. New, entertaining, lucrative, good for everyone and good for chess. Probably all this will happen even before Fide has created his next champion. Magnus Carlsen has contributied a lot to promote chess and just made himslf available for even more.

Andre's picture

carlsen against the world but excluding aronian , kramnik and vishy : against tier 2 players is what suits carlsen.

Burnett's picture

Thanks for your reply,
Somehow I miss your point, my statement was that when there is sufficient public interest any match could be organised, no one has any obligations towards FIDE. So yes Aronian or Kramnik are not excluded. As long as Carlsen accepts to play the word elite tournaments I see no reasen to think he is shy of playing Aronian or Kramnik and hence would decline a match offer.

Dan's picture

I think a 6th option should be added to the poll: "Bad (horrendous!) idea because Magnus might actually get what he wants: an annual world championship tournament -- bringing to an end the more than a century long linage of world champions who have earned that title by defeating the previous world champion in an official match." This is exactly how I feel and how I thought most other fans felt as well, but maybe I in fact hold a minority opinion.

Andre's picture

Its a prevalent opinion not minority opinion.

Mark De Smedt's picture

I vote for this 6th option too !

TM's picture

This is **exactly** my opinion as well. I really hoped that we had left the dark times of "WCC tournaments" behind us. We already have Linares, Corus, Tal, and Nanjing. Why do we need a WCC decided by a tournament??? To even suggest this is disrespectful for the history of our game and chess fans around the world!

jazzkoo's picture

Yes.. well put, i agree too..

Holland Chess's picture

Seeking win-wins, that is what I think needs to be explored further.
A win for Chess worldwide, a further improvement of the WC cycle, commercial benefits not only for Magnus, but also for present WC, future WCs and FIDE.
So in my view previous threads can be combined into a strong, versatile and beneficial approach for chess and for the well-being of the top-players.

KingTal's picture

This pole must be rigged. No way there are so many votes that its a good idea...
i mean read the comments here.

A round robin tournament to decide the world champion would be dumb as hell because there are chances of manipulation. Lets say one game left, player 1 and player 2 are on place one and two and have the same points. Player 2 plays against player X which doesn´t have a chance to win the tournament anymore and which don´t want player 1 to win, because he hates him or was bribed or whatever. So player X loses intentionally to player 2 and player 2 becomes WC. Such or similiar incidents seems quite possible in tournaments. In match play its always one on one so such things are impossible.

And again as many already mentioned chess is also called the king´s game so its understandable that the king(WC) must be dethroned. ;)

gg's picture

The poll is obviously rigged since all the clever people voting no stay in the minority in spite of posting all day long what an idiot Carlsen is, while the big silent majority that respects Carlsen doesn't post as much as Andre

frogbert's picture

@Stanley Peters

"Which 5 years is he referring to?"

It’s probably only a small matter of getting the maths wrong: Slightly depending on when in 2012 the match will be held, the cycle will have lasted for somewhere between a little less than 4 and a little less than 5 years:

2008 First games played April 21st in Baku
2009 WCC won by Gelfand
2011 Candidates (?)
2012 WC Match when?

Note that the 2007 WCC was one of the qualification events for the FIDE GP – in fact Carlsen qualified for the 2008-2009 GP via the 2007 WCC, as did Karjakin, Kamsky and Shirov, but Shirov refused to participate in the Grand Prix, as did Kramnik, Anand, Topalov and Morozevich.

What was FIDE’s reaction when Kramnik and Topalov didn’t want to play the Grand Prix? (Note that if Kramnik would’ve beaten Anand in 2008, we would’ve been talking about Anand and Topalov instead)

FIDE gave in for the “pressure” implied by the non-participation of Kramnik and Topalov and arranged a way for them to participate anyway – the new “Candidates” event, originally suggested as EITHER a tournament or as a cup.

harami's picture

GUYS, Magnus just wants to show he's coming up in a Big Way. Trying to be arrogant is a pretty good way of being noticed. He's gone too far by Insulting the reigning World Champion by saying he doesn't feel right to earn a position to play him now or maybe he thinks he's not there yet.

Whatever his reasons about privileges to Anand are in very bad taste. Hey Magnus, qualify and beat Anand if you think you are better than all of them, or in the league of your guru kasparov !

frogbert's picture


Carlsen and Anand are friends and have big mutual respect for each other. It's strange if someone following top chess hasn't noticed by now. To show your argument's further absurdity, consider what Carlsen explicitly wrote:

"The proposal to abolish the privileges of the World Champion in the future is not in any way meant as criticism of, or an attack on, the reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who is a worthy World Champion, a role model chess colleague and a highly esteemed opponent."

If it's anything that's insulting, then it is to say that Carlsen is lying. He can't possibly be more explicit than this, so suggesting that Carlsen doesn't respect Anand is equivalent to calling Carlsen a big, fat liar.


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